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Today is the final stage before the rest day. It was nearly 100km shorter than yesterday with only three climbs on the menu – none which were overly steep, but just steep enough for a strong team to absolutely decimate a peloton with some ferocious pace-setting.
The only thing missing was a team with the spirit to inflict this pain on the peloton! One quick walk past the Movistar bus revealed which team this would be.
We rolled out and as usual a series of attacks went off. Astana quickly shut them all down to try to have a nice controlled day, but once a group of six skipped clear this wish was short-lived.
After only 10km Movistar stepped up to the plate and put all their men on the front. Instantly the chitter chatter disappeared from the peloton and everyone was silent. Everyone knew we were in for an absolutely brutal day, and the only question was how brutal?
We hit the first climb after 20km and instantly the peloton was split into two … then three … then by the top of the 6km climb the peloton was in about six different groups.
Today the sun was out so the pain in my rib cage had somewhat subsided. Unfortunately breathing was still an issue and as soon as my heart reached 150bpm I was coughing up a lung! If I pushed beyond this point I began to choke, so I had to resign myself to the fact that if I wanted to stay in the race I had to keep my heart rate below 150bpm. Easier said than done against the world’s best riders.
After the first climb the only ones who remained at the front were the GC favourites. Naturally they all looked at each other as if to say, “what do we do for the next 110km without any team mates?” I assume the answer was something like this: “We best wait for them so they can set our tempo for a little longer!”
And so it was; the peloton reformed as one and I perched myself close to the front ready for the next round of fireworks. Before we knew it we were at the feed zone and it all kicked off again.
I had not been taking a feed bag for the past week because I was worried about damaging my rib while grabbing it. Instead I’ve been using the feed zone as an opportunity to move up through the field. The alarm bells started ringing when all the Movistar riders took their feed bags while riding on the front which meant they were not slowing down. The poor desperate hungry soles at the back were in for a brutal 10km climb which was about to begin!
I started up the front behind Movistar which was lucky. I knew unless they rode at my heart-restricted tempo of 150bpm I would be tickedy-boo, but guys were getting dropped as soon as we hit the climb so I knew I had to be smart! Sure enough my handbrake went on as Movistar continued to apply the accelerator; the peloton was splitting to pieces as soon as the attacks started thick and fast.
Again a group of favourites formed and again they looked at each other and eased up. The main group reformed the same as it did earlier, and then I got the sudden urge to attack! I was ready to take the risk and have a go. Then just as I was nearly within attacking range our Polish strongman Paterski launched off the front with a small group and rode away.
I wasn’t going to attack solo and risk towing the bunch back to Paterski, so I just resumed my spot in the bunch. No heroics from me today and in all honesty, it was probably for the best.
From then on I just used as little energy as possible to get to the finish and in hindsight I must admit I physically could not have done much more today. I was under strict orders from the team directors who told me to just survive today and make it to the rest day tomorrow. As soon as I got on the bus I had shower and fell straight to sleep. I have never ever done that before — my poor old body is certainly a little tired from the past few days!
Meanwhile the ever-reliable Paterski was in yet another strongman’s breakaway. There have been three of them during the Vuelta in which the entire field has tried to be part of it, and he has been in them all. What a hardman.
The group behind had a ceasefire long enough for the escapees to get up the road and ensure they contested the stage win. In the end a young Frenchmen from Argos Warren Barguil showed that his stage win a few days ago was no fluke by beating one of the worlds best, Rigoberto Uran, in a two-up sprint. Fortune certainly favours the brave, and in Barguil’s case he started attacking 8km from the finish and was still doing it on the line!
He’s a rising star of the sport and huge congratulations to him. Paterski showed his class with a fine seventh place amongst some of the best climbers in the world and I am sure after he recharges his batteries on the rest day he’ll come out swinging again.
I am certainly not enjoying being unable to contribute to the race in a way I would like. But I guess I’m realising the hard way that I have certain limits. Unfortunately these past couple of days have shown that my limit is simply surviving. I want to stay in the race so that I can contribute to my team. I can’t help much if I am sitting at home on the couch feeling sorry for myself and watching the race on TV though.
I’m sure my rib will start healing soon. I’m on the long list for the World Championships and representing my country is always an incredible honour. I know that simply finishing the Vuelta is the best possible training for the Worlds and I want to be ready if I make the final nine for the road race.
I will be fully recovered in a couple of weeks so there’s plenty of time to be ready for Worlds and the end of season races with Cannondale Pro Cycling team. I simply have to suffer a little more for another five stages here in Spain. That’s no drama for me and it adds to the excitement; I honestly have no idea how my body will respond when the flag drops each day! That’s what keeps the smile on my face.
For now I’m looking forward to a well-earned rest and big day doing a whole lot of nothing tomorrow!